The right to freedom of expression is provided for in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 19 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights and Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, as including:
“1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This Article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.
2. The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary” (Article 10, ECHR).
Freedom of expression includes both the right to impart and to receive (and seek) information.
The European Court has described freedom of expression as one of the essential foundations of a democratic society, one of the basic conditions for its progress and for the development of every man. Paragraph one of Article 10 lays down the freedoms protected, whereas paragraph two sets conditions for legitimate restrictions on these freedoms. If the conditions laid down in the second paragraph are not fulfilled, a limitation on freedom of expression will amount to a violation of the European Convention.
Traditionally the civil and political human rights are seen as rights to be free from state interference, but the European Court has held that, although the essential object of many provisions of the European Convention is to protect the individual against arbitrary interference by public authorities, there may in addition be positive obligations inherent in an effective respect of the rights concerned: “Genuine, effective exercise of this freedom does not depend merely on the State’s duty not to interfere, but may require positive measures of protection, even in the sphere of relations between individuals”. Thus the state obligation not to interfere might extend to a positive obligation to interfere in order to protect the individual from third party restrictions.